THE African National Congress (ANC) would "leave no stone unturned" in making education an essential service, the party’s secretary-general, Gwede Mantashe, said on Monday.
This is not the first time the ANC has made the call, which in legal terms will prohibit teachers from going on strike, stripping them of a key bargaining tool.
The largest teachers’ union, the South African Democratic Teachers Union (Sadtu), has rejected the proposal outright.
But the ANC was not talking about legislation yet. It was referring to an "attitudinal adjustment", which took into account the "ethical dimension" of teachers’ work, Mr Mantashe said at a media briefing at the conclusion of a meeting of the ANC’s national executive committee.
"The starting point is, though you are not threatening life and limb, you do threaten the growth and the survival of society. We think that education should be an essential service if we are going to raise this society and the country to the level of being competitive globally."
ANC education and health subcommittee chairwoman, and former education minister, Naledi Pandor, said the party wanted a social compact recognising the importance of quality education with those in the sector.
Mr Mantashe said trade unions had a right to react, but the ANC had to "think broader than narrow interests" of labour. "We can’t just think narrowly, education is essential for society to uplift itself."
Sadtu in statement on Monday again rejected the idea of declaring education an essential service. But the teachers’ union agreed that education was "essential".
Sadtu general secretary John Maluleke said this had to apply to all players in the sector, including those tasked with overseeing education. "Where there is an infrastructural issue, deal with it... if teachers have to be paid or require training, deal with it, treat it as an emergency."
Only under such a status quo could the country move ahead with quality education, Mr Maluleke said.
Sadtu said it would request an urgent meeting with the ANC to get clarity about its understanding of essential service.